Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Slogging

Here I am, ready to start writing my post, and WTF happened to my WordPress editor? Seriously. Did they bother telling anyone they were changing it?

So off to the WP Admin page, then to the Posts page, then the older editor. Whew! This I understand. Don’t get all fancy-schmancy on me. I don’t need pretty, I just need it to work without me getting confused.

Sigh. Okay, now on to the real post…

*crickets*

Ugh. Now I forgot what I wanted to write about. Figures. Oh, wait, I remember πŸ™‚ I was going to write about how cruel Mother Nature is by teasing us–in March, mind you–with temps in the 60s (F). Before St. Patrick’s Day. In Minnesota. Of course, she tempers it with winds kicking at 40 mph. It would’ve been really nice otherwise. Spring is here!

Yeah–no. Yesterday, high in the 20s Today the same. Actually, cold all week, and a snowstorm for tomorrow. Gotta love MN!

Okay, maybe not what I was going to write about, but I need some words. As in, here I am in week 2 of my NaNo and I’m about 3k wordsΒ  behind where I should be. Hell, I should be about a thousand words ahead. Ugh.

And then there’s my Muse, who has been conspicuously absent despite my request he stick around.

*door slams*

Speaking of the devil. Then again… “What the hell happened to you?”

My muse shuffles in front of my writing board. “Still only two crossed off.” He toes his sneakers off and kicks them into a corner.

He’s referring to the list of publishers that have my manuscript in their editor’s hands. “My agent didn’t pass along any news this week. I suppose she reached out to them last week, so next week she’ll check on them again.” He’s wearing a fleece-lined flannel hooded jacket, you know, the ones with the cream-colored sheep’s wool-kinda lining inside. His jeans are faded, with a long black smear on the back of a leg and dried leaves sticking to the flannel.

“Again, what the hell happened to you? Muse football game?”

He brushes the leaves off his jacket, then rubs the black streak. Now I see his jeans are actually wet–damp?–from the knees down. “Wasn’t watching where I was going.”

“So you what, slipped into the creek?”

He turns, hits me with a glare. “Yes, I slipped into the creek. Your point?”

“My point is you are goofing off in the woods when I need you here.”

He plants hands on his hips and snorts. “You need me here, love? Then you bloody well better sit your ass down and write. I’ve been here.”

“Falling into creeks?”

“No. Trying to inspire you to get the story moving. I keep tossing ideas at you.” He crosses his arms on his chest and rocks on his heels. “Somehow, you’re not quite catching them. You walk when you need to think, so do I.” He crossed the office to lean over me and read my laptop screen. “That sucks.”

The latest chapter of my draft is on the screen. “No shit. So, where have you been?”

“Not proof-reading.”

I shove the computer forward. “It’s a first draft. It’s supposed to suck. I haven’t written a first draft for a couple years–I’m trying to keep my inner editor in her cage.” Argh. “I’m finally getting to the next biggish plot point, so hopefully it’ll be easier to keep going now.”

My Muse shakes his head. “It still sucks. Let me change and we’ll try to get this thing going. You feeling it yet?”

Feeling it? Feeling the creative energy fuel my story? “Not so much.”

He frowns. Sighs. “I’ll see what I can come up with. But it’s the weekend, and damn it, you will catch up your word count.”

Yep. That’s the goal. And I need to get my ass in gear; we’re entertaining family for Easter on the weekend before Easter, so I’ve got to start organizing and cleaning. You know, like the annual refrigerator toss-out (toss out anything that looks or smells like a science experiment), and the why-am-I-keeping-this-stuff derby.

And now I can record these words for my count–yippee! I could drone on about something just for more words, but that could get kinda dull and boring and you’ve probably already checked out so I’m not sure why I’m still writing this post but I think I can claim about seven hundred and forty words now. Sweet!

Have a great weekend!


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Progress?

My Muse slips into my writing office. I don’t turn, but I hear him close the door with a quiet snick.

“I hope you enjoyed your break, because I’m digging in now.” I reach up and cross a publisher off the list on the whiteboard.

He grunts his opinion but doesn’t offer any snarky remarks.

I cross a second publisher off the list. “Two down, eleven to go.”

“I don’t see your word count thresholds up there, love.”

“I’ve got them on my computer. I’ll put my weekly counts up, just to remind me.” I cap the marker and turn to him. He’s wearing flannel today, a black- and red-checked shirt open over a white tee that has an odd blue stain on it. Looks like a portrait of a Smurf that had an unfortunate run-in with paint thinner. “Er, what’s that?”

He looks down. “Oh. Used to be a hand-drawn picture of the genie from ‘Aladdin.’ I think.”

“Uh-huh.” Ooo-kay. Didn’t know he was a fan. “I’m starting my NaNo for March, so you need to stick around.”

He narrows his eyes. “Oh, really? You wimped out last night.”

“I know, but it’s the weekend. I can catch up.” I head to my desk and open my computer. “Ready to get started?”

He settles into one of the recliners across the room. “Pretty lame blog post today, love.” A cup of fresh coffee appears on my desk, another on the small table beside his chair. An aroma of java, vanilla, and macadamia nut wafts from the mug. “You’d better get going on that draft. It’s going to be a long month otherwise.”

I’m getting a slow start on my self-imposed NaNo for March. I’m working on the next Sierra and Quinn book while waiting for a positive response from one of the publishers my agent submitted to. Two passes so far, but that’s to be expected. I look at it like sending a query to an agent, except all 13 agents asked for the full manuscript. You can’t expect all thirteen to like it because writing is subjective.

In the meantime, I’ve got words to write, a review to write, and another book to finish reading. Luckily today is still supposed to be windy and cold; tomorrow’s forecast is for upper 50s–woo-hoo!

And here you go, because we all like to see furry friends on blog posts πŸ˜€

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I think she’s telling me to get my ass to work!

Have a great writing weekend, all!

 


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The Freedom of Free-writing

Often when a writer is stuck–blocked–we hear the suggestion to “just start writing, it doesn’t matter what, just write.” In my experience, there’s something to that. For me, the very act of putting pencil to paper (as opposed to fingers to keyboard, which works, but not as well) seems to kickstart my stalled creative energies.

“…the backup seminar director–former classmate that gave Sierra a hard time? … no, friend. So, would he know about the FBO? What would he know? maybe he’d be able to give some insight.

Remember, keep conflict w/ Chief. Have to show he’s a dick, and make sure wife (PD clerk) behavior changes when he’s in the room. Need to have some PD harassment when Sierra alone. What would Quinn do while Sierra is at airport?

Sierra and Quinn to PD. Is teacher’s daughter in waiting area? or waiting area empty so they can talk to PD clerk, see her behavior b4 Chief enters waiting area, escorts teacher and daughter into waiting area. Conflict between Chief and Sierra

…AgCat? Pawnee? Cessna 188?…turbine–which? JT8D? naw, probably PT6. What other plane would FBO have? 182? Seminole? Cherokee? 310? probably single engine–turbine? Or maybe Cessna 210? don’t do lessons, so wouldn’t need to keep it down to 172 or 182… What about …”

Pretty disjointed, right? Every writer has a way to brainstorm, but whether they write the ideas down or just talk them through, the storm is messy. Necessarily so–if it wasn’t messy, we’d probably call it something like “stream of consciousness” or “conversations with one’s self.”

Free-writing allows you to just write through your ideas without any constraints. I find as I free-write I’ll make notes I go back to later on, like the note about changing a character name, or the other note about checking on BCA offices in northern MN. It’s the lack of structure, I think, that encourages idea-generation. I don’t have to worry about complete sentences or even spelling (except I still have to read it πŸ™‚ ). It’s like throwing ideas against the brainstorming wall, but without the goopy mess.

I’ve been working on an outline for my next book. Any good story has conflict, suspense, chase scenes–wait–no, that’s TV shows from the 80s. I end up writing a sentence or three about each scene conflict, then bridge them–sort of. My process has evolved from typing the mind dumps into the computer (at least in the beginning) to using pencil and paper, because I’ve discovered the act of writing helps me work through the story. Once I have a pretty good idea about the outline, I’ll enter it into the worksheets I’ve got in the computer (I use Karen Wiesner’s worksheets from her book First Draft in 30 Days).

Of course, everything is fluid. An outline for me isn’t set in stone; it’s more a series of guideposts through the story. The more I free-write through the major scenes, the more I refine them. For instance, the victim in the book is the son-in-law of a favorite teacher, but the teacher must be a suspect. So, there has to be a reason he’s a suspect. At first, I had one idea, but it seemed a little weak. As I wrote, I added another reason. Better, but still not quite there. Ooo, I’ve got it. The idea I finally hit on makes the conflict more personal, and raises suspicion to the point where when he is taken into custody, it makes more sense.

Each writer works through planning (or pantsing) differently. The more you write and the more you learn about the process and practice of writing, the more fine-tuned your process will become. It’s like gardening every year. What works one year may work the next year, but maybe not. Then you try something new, and it either works well, sort of works, or bombs. You adjust for the next year. Each year you get better, because your process evolves.

If something works for you, by all means, keep it going. But don’t hesitate to try something new for a project. You might discover it works really well, or at least well enough to give you options when one method isn’t working for that particular project.

Do you free-write when you brainstorm a project? What works for you?

Have a great writing weekend!


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Fiction in real life settings

You’ve heard that truth is stranger than fiction, right? Writers struggling with plotting or generating ideas are often told to look at the latest news stories, especially obscure ones, for ideas.

On the flip side, and more common, is fiction taking place in the real world. From Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum in the streets of Trenton, NJ to William Kent Kreuger’s Cork O’Connor in northern Minnesota, fiction takes place in the world we know. Unless we are writing science fiction or fantasy (except urban fantasy), we use places we’ve visited, or places we’ve heard about from other people who’ve been there. Maybe we get a great idea for a story, then go “on location” to the place we want to use as our setting. (Hmm, maybe I should set my next book in Hawaii. Or the Caribbean. Or New Zealand. πŸ™‚ )

Even urban fantasy uses real life places. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden is a resident of Chicago (LOVE Dresden!), Kim Harrison’s Hollows series is set in Cincinnati and the surrounding area, and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series spans the globe from Arizona to Japan and the UK.

Research is a great reason to travel and see places we want to write about. Sometimes, though, we stick closer to home because that’s what we know. Maybe it’s the place where we grew up. I’ve set a book in a small town in rural Minnesota similar to the one I now live near. Maybe it’s a place we lived while in college. Maybe it’s the place we visited and wish we could move to (Kauai, definitely. Or maybe Seattle.)

The book I’m working on (shhh, don’t say anything about my still-unfinished outline–I don’t need my Muse showing up just now) is set in a place where I lived while in aviation school way back when. Like, 25+ years ago (OMG, I was in college 26 years ago. Holy shit–I’m getting old.)

Needless to say, there’ve been some changes in the past quarter century. Even though my book is set in the early 90s, some things are the same. Some things are vastly different. (I see a road trip in my future. πŸ™‚ ) So I hop onto Google (gotta love the Internet for research!) and search for my old alma mater.

Lots of changes. As in, “holy cow, seriously?” changes. Definitely a road trip in my future for research, and a bit of nostalgia along the way.

But (there’s always a “but”, right?) depending on the story, it’s a good idea to make a few things up along the way. Unless you’re writing historical stuff that needs to be fairly accurate, that is. You don’t want readers to stop by your main character’s “real” house, the one you saw during your driving tour and decided would be perfect for your character. Imagine having strangers knocking on the door and asking to see Sassy Simpson’s bedroom where she found that bloody knife, or Logan Loveless’ kitchen where he finally kissed his dream girl.

And you, as the homeowner, have no idea who they’re talking about, even though they’re waving a book and pointing to the chapter that relates said event in mind-blowing detail.

Yep, probably not the best idea. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the setting, just tweak it a bit. Add a street or three that don’t exist in real life to plant your main character’s domicile. Rename some real life businesses or create some new ones in town.

Hey, it’s fiction, it’s supposed to be made up.

Er, I’d better get back to my outline. My Muse hasn’t shown up yet, but I suspect he will soon. It’s a super-nice weekend, an “April in February” weekend, so I’ll have to squeeze in a little garden planning. And taxes. Ugh.

And a walk or three. You know, to help me with my outline πŸ˜€

Have a great writing weekend!


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The waiting game

I add the last entry to the list on the white board in my writing office and fail to suppress the urge to squeal like a teenager. I won’t admit to the happy dance, though.

Another step closer.

My Muse appears bearing gifts: a bag of tasty Ghirardelli chocolates and a six-pack of Moon Man beer. The best part: he’s wearing that burgundy henley. A worthy distraction.

“Congrats, love.” He sets the beer and chocolate on my desk and gestures at the board. “How many?”

“Thirteen.” It’s still sinking in. My agent got my manuscript into the hands of editors at thirteen publishers. And she said so far she’s gotten positive responses. That is, they’re looking forward to reading it.

He scans the list. “Looks like a nice selection.”

“Are you kidding? These are great.” It’s still sinking in. The whole “I really have an agent” to “Oh. My. Gawd. My manuscript is actually on an editor’s desk at that publisher.”

He loops an arm around my shoulders. “You’re doing great, love. Now, why haven’t you finished the outline for the next book?”

He smells like spring, that fresh, green scent of promise and sunshine and rain, that scent that makes you want to breathe it all in that first day the grass turns bright green and the sun glows against a brilliant blue sky. “Can’t focus.”

“Bullshit. You’re not trying hard enough, love, and you know it.”

Silence. I’m not even trying to think of a response because I know he’s right. I’m at the brainstorming stage of my next book. I sort of know what the story will be, but free-writing through the outline a few times will help me cement the major plot points.

“I’ll get it done. I have to have it done by the end of the month so I can do a self-imposed NaNoWriMo in March.” Besides, the weather for the next week or so is supposed to be spring-like, as in March temps in February here in MN. Lots of opportunity to go for walks to help me think through the plot lines.

“I’m going to hold you to that.” His Indiana Jones fedora appears on his head. “You need to get to work.”

So now it’s a waiting game. My agent will keep me updated on responses, but I know it’s just like when an agent asks for a full when you’re querying agents. It takes a little while for that person to get to your manuscript’s spot in their TBR queue. I expect it’ll be a few weeks before we hear back from any of them.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on the outline for the next book, and planning my garden. I’ll have to start seeds in a few weeks. This year will be a canning tomato year, and hopefully my peppers will do better than they did last year (last year was a bad year for my peppers). Maybe I’ll do garbanzo beans this year. I always like to plant something new or something I haven’t planted for a while.

Here’s your awwww to start off the weekend:

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Socks and Zoey napping

Pulled from the archives. Even though Zoey would chase Socks and (since she was bigger) often wrestle with her, sometimes they’d cuddle.

Have a great weekend, all! Get writing!


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Random thoughts

A blank page stares at me, so I stare back, trying to ignore the ache in the right side of my face. Creative thoughts flee from the pain like cockroaches from light.

Gawd, I hate sinus headaches. Except, they may not be sinus-related at all. Man, this getting old stuff really screws up the system.

“You’re not old, love.” My Muse settles into the recliner beside me in my writing office. “You haven’t hit half a century yet. You’re barely middle-aged.”

“Tell that to my headache. You heard what my doctor said. She thinks they’re hormonal.” I’ve been getting them since I turned forty or so. That’s old enough for my system to start wigging out.

He indicates the notebook on my lap. “Excuses, love.”

I lean back in my chair and close my eyes. “I turned in my proposal. I’m not sure what to work on next.”

“You know what you need to do, love. Plan your website revamp, work on your e-newsletter strategy, or work on the outline for the next book. Pick one.”

The ache around my right eye sharpens, reaches a finger to my right temple and digs in. “Aren’t you and Mr. E supposed to be doing some sort of prep for your Super Bowl party tomorrow?”

“Nope. We decided we’d just gather at the sports pub with the other Muses. No muss, no fuss. And you’re changing the subject.”

“Yeah, because I can’t think about writing when my face hurts. Maybe I’ll start looking at seed catalogs. We’re moving the garden this year.” Yep, into an area that’s been invaded by creeping Charlie. Oh joy.

“Excuses, love.”

“Then again, I’ve got a couple books I need to finish, including Mr. E’s debut and a comparison title for my book. I should probably finish those.” I turn to my Muse. “You know I called you just so I’d have something to write in my blog today, right?”

A grin inches across his face. Heat washes through me. “Of course I know. I’m your Muse, love. I also know it’s killing you to be in this uncertain place with your writing. So work on the outline for the next book. Send Mae that email about her website, and ask her about her newsletter while you’re at it. You have to write. You’re as antsy as a third-grader in brand-new dress clothes–the uncomfortable kind. It’s driving me nuts.”

“Just like this stupid headache is driving me nuts. Welcome to the club.”

Today is supposed to be relatively warm (around 30 F) with a kicking wind (16 mph), but I’m going to go for a walk anyway. That always seems to help when I’m stuck or lacking creative energy. Or I could just peruse seed catalogs for a while. That’s always fun, dreaming about a garden with few weeds and gorgeous veggies. I’ll have to start my seeds in a few weeks. Or maybe I’ll look up recipes for creeping Charlie.

Have a great weekend, and WRITE!


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Stormin’ the brain

I enter my writing office, coffee mug in hand. It’s a fun one I received as a gift. Every writer needs a fun mug! plotting-mug_cr“G’day, love. It’s about time you showed up.”

My Muse is standing in front of the whiteboard wall, marker in hand. Today he’s sporting an Atlanta Falcons jersey and jeans, with a New England Patriots cap.

“Can’t decide who to root for?” I ask, gesturing with my mug at his ensemble. “The Super Bowl is next weekend, not this weekend.”

“Figured I’d start early. It was either these or …”

“The burgundy henley?” I finish.

He aims those baby blues at me. “You really like that shirt, don’t you?”

I really like how he looks in that shirt, but I’m not going to tell him that. He might never wear it again. I sidle up next to him. “Sooo, whatcha doing?”

“Trying to come up with alternate titles for your book, as you well know.” He adds another word to the collection on the board. They’re mostly aviation-related, words like “terminal”, “plane”, and “stall”. Some are words that often show up in mystery and thriller titles, like “death”, “dark”, and “fear”. HeΒ  writes “bag-smasher” off to the side.

“Really?” I erase it. “Do you think ‘bag-smasher’ conveys a sense of mystery and suspense?”

“Hey, I’m just tossing out ideas.” He drapes an arm around my shoulders. “I really like that one.” He points. “How about ‘Terminal Cargo’? Or ‘Frozen Stall’? ‘Crash and Freeze’? What about ‘Deadly Wings’?”

“Ugh. No.” The words on the board start to swim in my vision. We’re brainstorming different titles for my book at my agent’s request. “It needs to be aviation-esque, but still have a connotation of suspense.”

He stares at me. “‘Aviation-esque’? Really?”

I duck out from under his arm and head to my desk. “We can think about the title later. Right now I need your help with the proposal.”

My Muse leans against the board, arms crossed. “Are you ready to sit down and get started on that? That one’s not going to be easy, love.”

“I never expected it to be easy.” I drop into my chair and set my mug aside. “It’s like a spiffed-up synopsis.” The same dread that I feel when I think about writing a synopsis blows a chill through me now. It’s like a cover blurb, or the blurbs you see on Amazon. But more.

“Want to tackle the bio first?” he asks.

Tempting. Very tempting. “Nope.”

He drags a director’s chair to my desk and sits across from me. “It’ll be easier.”

“True, but we gotta get the pitch part done, and that’ll take the longest.”

A slow smile brightens his face. “I’m proud of you, love. No procrastinating.”

“Yet.”

I always seem to find other things to do instead of the hard stuff, like writing a synopsis or figuring out a plot hole. I’ve got an example of a proposal, and I’ll have to research some on Amazon. For ideas, not procrastination.

No. Really.

My agent accepted my revision, with a few minor edits, so the next thing on the list is to come up with another title (current title: Just Plane Dead), write a bio that wows, and create a proposal she can present to editors. I’d be lying if I said I’m not worried about it. I’m sure my Muse and I can come up with something super awesome. I still think writing the book and revising it are way easier.

Oh, and for those who stop by for cat pics (you know who you are πŸ˜‰ ):

I’m pulling from the archives. Zoey is our orange cat, and Socks was our other one until she went MIA. We still miss her. She was so nice and fuzzy and nice. Zoey’s kind of a grump; she doesn’t even like to be picked up, but she sure likes to be petted.

Go forth and write this weekend! I will be πŸ™‚